The Recruiting Officer

by George Farquhar

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Places Discussed

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*Shrewsbury. Midlands market town on the Severn River in the county of Shropshire, near England’s Welsh border, in which the play is set. For knowledgeable members of George Farquhar’s eighteenth century audiences, Shrewsbury evoked memories of William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I (1597-1598), as it was the site of the climactic battle in that play. His audiences probably also recalled with amusement Falstaff’s shameless recruiting tactics in Henry IV, in which he enlists the lame, the old, and the blind into the king’s army. In Farquhar’s own comedy, Shrewsbury furnishes its share of naïve rustics to be conned by Captain Plume and Sergeant Kite; these include the country wench Rose and her stupid brother Bullock. Sergeant Kite’s masquerade as a fortune-teller associates military recruiting tactics with charlatanry in general.

Shrewsbury’s marketplace is the center of Kite’s and Plume’s outrageous recruiting tactics. Village marketplaces were notorious venues for traveling mountebanks. A village path by the River Severn is the scene of romantic encounters—a setting enhanced by poetic associations given to the Severn by John Milton and other writers.


Courtroom. A judicial hearing in the play’s fourth act, in which Justice Balance reviews Kite’s dubious enlistments, is a satirical gem, ridiculing both the recruiting process and the often farcical nature of country justice, especially when the scene culminates in the absurdity of Balance sentencing his disguised daughter to be a recruit.

Balance’s house

Balance’s house. Home of Justice Balance that is a setting in the play’s first two acts for Melinda’s and Sylvia’s intrigues. Balance’s mansion also provides a dignified social location for the fifth act’s resolution of conflicts and establishes the formal engagement of Sylvia and Plume, giving their union the stamp of social approval.


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Burns, Edward. Restoration Comedy: Crises of Desire and Identity. London: Macmillan, 1987. A general study of Restoration comedy, with emphasis upon disguise.

Cunningham, John E. Restoration Drama. London: Evans Brothers, 1966. Discusses Farquhar in conjunction with the other Restoration masters of comedy.

Miner, Earl. Restoration Dramatists: A Collection of Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. A volume of the best essays on the genre by some of the best critics. Gives several different views of the period that are helpful in understanding how Farquhar is different from the writers of the earlier period.

Palmer, John. The Comedy of Manners. New York: Russell & Russell, 1962. Considers Restoration comic writers as part of the longer tradition of the comedy of manners. There is a chapter on Farquhar.

Schneider, Ben Ross. The Ethos of Restoration Comedy. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1971. The morality of these comedies has been a source of discussion since the 1690’s. This book attempts to put the problem in historical perspective.

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Critical Essays